Simply put, outdoor lights are fittings that are suitable for outdoor application as they are designed to withstand exposure to environmental elements. They are vital to a home as they extend functionality and convenience to outdoor spaces while also adding an important layer of security. They are an investment in your home, as well as your lifestyle.
Outdoor lighting has a long history, dating back to the 19th century, and new technology and innovative designs have taken outdoor lights from the old candle lit street lanterns to spotlights with timers and motion sensors.
In this practical how-to guide, we will look at how to choose exterior lighting for your home, and what you need to consider. Based on your home decor and style, find practical tips and recommendations on how you can select exterior lighting that will not only boost your kerb appeal but also bring functionality that stands the test of time.
The Nuts and Bolts of Exterior Lighting
The most critical factor to consider is a light's suitability and durability in an outdoor environment. Not all lights are made equal, and a regular indoor light won’t survive in exposed settings.
To ascertain its suitability for outdoor spaces, we need to look at what's called an IP rating.
What are IP Ratings?
Ingress Protection (IP) ratings are an important aspect of outdoor lighting and are a measure of exposure tolerance. They allow you to gauge their suitability for the space you have in mind. Depending on the rating, outdoor lights are also suitable for areas like the bathroom or laundry. So, what is the IP rating for outdoor lighting? This depends greatly on how exposed the location.
Denoted in double digits, the numbers reveal how well a light’s electrical components are protected. The first number indicates the level of protection from solids (ranging from 0-6) and the second indicates protection from liquids (ranging from 0-8). The higher the number, the more protected your light. Always check with a qualified electrician to see if your light can be used in your desired exterior place. Below is an IP rating chart that can be a reference when choosing an outdoor light.
How do materials contribute to durability?
Outdoor exteriors need a level of protection against elements like wind, rain and even salt. Seaside homes and businesses are some of the hardest to protect due to the levels of salinity in the air. Generally, outdoor lights will utilise tougher metals like copper, brass and bronze. Some are better than others, but they all serve a particular purpose.
Copper, Brass and Bronze
These are known as ‘red’ metals, which become immune to the elements once they oxidise. Copper goes through a natural change turning green, as will brass and bronze to a similar extent. This patina is sometimes even sought after in the world of lighting design.
This is a cheaper material to utilise for outdoor lighting. The renowned Grade 316 Stainless Steel is used in marine applications as it has the best resistant to salt damage. This can be found in light fixtures in coastal properties and even on boats and ships.
A very common material used in light fixtures as it does not rust due to the natural process of ‘self-passivation’. Often aluminium has been anodized to force this protection coating, which gives the aluminium a polished finish.
What bulbs should you consider for outdoor lighting?
Bulbs play a crucial role in lighting as it determines the quality of illumination. In terms of energy efficiency and longevity, LED lights are often the popular choice for lighting. So, the question follows, are LED lights suitable for outdoor use?
You will find that many outdoor lights come with built-in LED bulbs and chips and are an ideal choice provided the fixture fittings have the appropriate IP ratings. For highly exposed placement, the bulb itself is designed to withstand the elements, such as polycarbonate shatterproof bulbs used in festoon lights.
Where bulbs must be supplied, regular LED bulbs work well in undercover spaces or where they are enclosed in well-sealed light fittings.
Often outdoor lights are used for security and convenience. Spotlights serve this purpose well as they provide strong directional light. And the bulb requirement for many of these fittings are GU10 or MR16 bulbs due to their ability to disperse a strong beam of light over a large area. While there are both LED and Halogen bulbs of these varieties, unlike its LED counterpart, Halogen bulbs generate more heat, adversely affecting its life hours.
While wattage is a common measure used to select bulbs, it is in fact the bulb’s lumen value that best reflects the degree of illumination. In simple terms, lumens is a measure of light output per watt. The more efficient the bulb, the greater the lumens.
The question of how many lumens for outdoor wall lights comes into play and vary greatly based on location and purpose.
While powerful floodlights with sensors are ideal for entryways and garage fronts, mellow atmospheric lighting is preferable for courtyards, stepped paths and walkways. Moreover, darker areas require more lumens for your lighting to have the desired impact.
For in-depth information on bulbs, have a read of our Bulb Buying Guide
What are the common types of outdoor lighting?
There is a wide variety of outdoor lighting that can be categorised based on function, material, style and placement. Below is a look at all these aspects of outdoor lighting so that you can make an informed choice.
These can be installed in a wide variety of locations including decks, beside entryways, garage doors, and even sheds. They serve both a functional and decorative purpose. As they come in a wide range of designs, they can easily add character to enhance your décor or façade.
A great option for modern outdoor areas or indoor/outdoor living spaces, spotlights that are also designed as up down lights can be installed along a walkway, deck or verandah, and provide ambient lighting to illuminate a backyard pool area, front porch or a main entrance.
These are perfect for accenting garden paths or entry paths towards a front door. These light fixtures are mounted on steps and terraces to illuminate outdoor spaces for convenience, safety and aesthetic effect.
A fan favourite for backyard lighting, these are best described as a close relative to fairy string lights but fitted with small bulbs. They can effortlessly illuminate a space and create an unmatched atmosphere. One handy hint is to have weatherproof outdoor power points installed, which will give you more freedom and safety.
These make great additions to under cover patios. Some pendants come with a sturdy rod suspension as well, so you don’t have to worry about the light swinging around.
Tip: For outdoor spaces such as patios, consider enlisting your electrician to install the power switch inside, so that when the bad weather hits, you can switch lights on or off from the safety of your home. Even installing a dimmer for your outdoor lights can help create mood and atmosphere.
Does outdoor lighting style matter?
An interior décor theme often extends to the exterior façade and outdoor living spaces. Lighting can be used to further accentuate a design theme and bring aesthetic value to a home. Below is an overview of the more distinct lighting styles that can be used to express a specific décor style or create an eclectic theme.
Contrary to popular belief, a farmhouse style home doesn't have to look as if it’s frozen in time. The modern farmhouse style exemplifies natural textures such as wood and woven materials, as well as timeless touches such as brass, copper and galvanized steel. Farmhouse style lighting reflect the same look and feel.
For wide verandahs and sheltered patios, we recommend wall lights across the length of your verandah. This is ideal for evening entertaining, as you can transition from indoors to outdoors with ease. Railway or station lights are a perfect match for farmhouse style decor. We also recommend installing sensor spotlights near your garage, but with a higher wattage than the lights on your verandah. Rural areas have less street lighting than in suburban areas, and a garage will need to be brighter than normal, as it will need to illuminate a larger area.
Whether you have a holiday home by the beach, live in a coastal region, or simply trying to recreate a coastal theme in an urban setting, lighting style can make all the difference.
Our top recommendation for choosing exterior lighting is to select lighting based on a high IP rating and material durability. As mentioned above, products made from higher grades of stainless steel, such as 316 Stainless Steel are better suited.
Due to higher salinity, conventional materials will rust and/or tarnish much quicker. As 316 Stainless Steel is marine grade it’s the superior material of choice for beachside homes. These lights are sometimes designed to reflect a nautical style as well and create a statement in your outdoor settings.
If you simply live in a coastal region or in a bayside area, the rules are much more flexible, as your lights won't be exposed to as much corrosive elements. We recommend lights made from brass or copper, which will develop a natural patina over time. This is considered desirable but if this is not your desired look, consider alternative materials such as steel.
Tip: If you want to extend your style between spaces, exterior lights with high IP ratings can be used both outdoors as well as in damp indoor spaces like bathrooms and laundries.
If you're a homeowner, chances are that you want to spend some of your weekends personalising and improving your home. Given the volume of renovated period homes in Australia, it's easy to choose exterior lighting for modern vintage homes.
Our top recommendations for exterior lighting for suburban homes are outdoor pendant lights. With a high enough IP rating for your space (speak with your local sparky about your requirements), an outdoor pendant light can look great near your front door, or even in a backyard entertaining area. Pole pendants are a particularly good choice here, as they are sturdier than chain, rope or cord suspensions, and won't sway with the wind.
If you live amidst the hustle and bustle of the city, we understand that space is limited. It can be difficult to source lighting that is in proportion with confined spaces. This is especially true for apartment balconies which are generally small by nature.
So, our top tip for exterior lighting for apartment dwellers is two-fold: invest in flush mount ceiling lights and pendant lights. While flush mount ceiling lights are the obvious first choice (and despite conventional opinion) pendant lights don't have to be an indoor-only choice. With a bit of creativity and clever placement, pendant lights with a high enough IP rating can offer a practical and appealing solution for small balconies and outdoor spaces.
Tip: A question that tends to come up with apartment living or strata titles is how much leeway is afforded to modify your property or rental. When it comes to outdoor lighting, there is no direct answer to the question: can we change our outdoor lighting without body corporate? The answers do lie with your body corporate by-laws that outline who takes care of what. If in doubt check with your body corporate manager, especially where common property such as driveways and courtyards are involved.
Outdoor lighting and sustainability
When it comes to sustainability and lighting, energy saving is at the forefront of anyone’s mind. Given that outdoor fittings are not used as often as indoor lights, here are some of our recommendations to make savvy lighting decisions for your outdoor spaces.
Some outdoor lights, particularly garden lights, run on solar power. They are an inexpensive way to subtly illuminate a lush garden, courtyard, or even an impressive tree in your yard. While solar lights play a more decorative role, they offer mellow illumination and some visibility so that you won’t need to have powerful lights switched on all the time.
Timers and Motion Sensors
Some outdoor lights can be powered on by timers and motion sensors. Timers are great energy savers as they let you control when a light is to be turned on and off. A sensor light is another way to control the light, powering on only when someone is near the light. This is particularly useful in the dark, when approaching or exiting your home and adds an extra sense of security. For this reason, most spotlights or floodlights suited for driveways and entrances include motion sensors.
Your outdoor lighting can be affected by the changing seasons and weather conditions throughout the year. To maintain longevity and the look of your light, basic cleaning can be carried out. This includes, wiping out dead bugs from inside the fixtures, removing cobwebs and dusting salt marks. Cleaning your light bulbs periodically will also improve the outdoor light and help remove any dust and debris.
Outdoor Lighting Checklist:
- Consulted or enlisted an electrician for safe and suitable placement and installation of outdoor lights
- All outdoor lights have appropriate IP ratings
- Bulbs or fixtures with inbuilt lamps have sufficient lumens
- Spotlights include sensors where needed
- Lighting design complements the building décor or theme
- The more durable or robust lighting builds chosen for harsher/highly exposed locations
- Switches/dimmers installed indoors for all outdoor lights
- Waterproof power outlets installed where necessary